In an effort to keep alive their struggle for greater freedom under Chinese rule, tens of thousands of Tibetan expatriates will vote for new exile leadership on Sunday in Dharamsala, India.
While the election is the second direct election of a leader in exile, it has growing importance the Dalai Lama announcement in 2011 that he was handing over his political authority to a democratically-elected government.
The 80-year-old monk and Nobel Laureate has stepped back from the limelight amid questions about his health and uncertainty over his successor. Tibetan Buddhism holds that the soul of a senior lama is reincarnated in the body of a child after he dies.
While the Dali Lama will remain as the Tibetan spiritual leader, Sunday’s vote will select a political leader known as a "Sikyong,” who will be solely responsible for political and diplomatic decisions for the government-in-exile known as the Central Tibetan Administration.
Exiled Tibetans see the CTA as their legitimate government, despite the Chinese government’s attempt to marginalize it. It’s based in Dharamsala, where a community of Tibetans lives with the Dalai Lama.
On Thursday, Beijing said it has never recognized the Dalai Lama-backed Tibetan government-in-exile and asked countries around the world not to provide any "stage" to independence activists from Tibet, according to Mumbai’s dnaindia.com
"You must be quite clear about the position of Chinese government, that we have never recognized this so-called government-in-exile," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said, according to the report.
Lobsang Sangay, the leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile, who is seeking re-election, told Reuters that CTA is in it for the long haul.
"China will see that CTA is going to stay here for a long time and the Tibetan freedom struggle will be here for a long time," he said.
While China controls Tibet, the CTA is important as a main avenue for the movement for greater autonomy for Tibet and the survival of Tibetans’ ancient culture.
The Sikyong will have his hands full rallying global support for Tibet's freedom struggle, strengthening ties with the host government India, and discouraging self-immolation by refugees protesting Beijing's ironclad control of Tibet. More than 140 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in grisly, usually fatal protests against Beijing rule.
According to Reuters, Sangay and his opponent, exile parliament speaker Penpa Tsering, both favor the "middle way" propagated by the Dalai Lama for more than 50 years that advocates nonviolence while seeking autonomy for Tibet, while stopping short of demanding full independence for their Himalayan homeland.